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Proposed cuts decried
University community speaks out at public hearings on UConn funding
by Thomas Becher (February 28, 1997)
Students, faculty and staff lashed out at proposed cuts in the state budget for higher education Wednesday during a public hearing in the Student Union lobby held by the General Assembly's Appropriations Committee.
"The government keeps putting obstacles in front of us. It's a shame if we're not going to succeed because of budget cuts," said Hilary Norberg, a political science major.
Jose Espejo, a nutritional sciences major, urged state Sen. Donald Williams, D-Thompson, and state Rep. Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, to fight for students.
"Every waterfall has to start with one drop," he said. "I hope you continue to be that first drop for the students."
"You cannot keep cutting the University's budget and expect economic development to flourish," Merrill told the students. "We're in a position to change the governor's budget but we need your help to do it."
During hearings at the Legislative Office Building last Thursday, lawmakers were told that Connecticut is at or near the bottom among states in funding for public higher education. Michael Kozlowski, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, the governor's budget office, countered that the state is among the best in per-student expenditures.
About the only thing anyone could agree on is that the clock is ticking to restore cuts to higher education proposed by OPM. The Appropriations Committee must decide how much money to restore for higher education by April 24.
According to the governor's budget document, the proposal would mean a $27 million cut for UConn during the next two fiscal years.
OPM on Monday announced that UConn would receive an additional $2.3 million in salary adjustments.
"The bottom line remains that these are huge cuts that, left intact, will give us less in state appropriations in 1998-99 than we received in 1988-89 -- a decade later," said Scott Brohinsky, director of governmental and University relations. "If a $13.5 million annual reduction were to be made up in a tuition increase, it would require more than $1,000 per student a year. That can't happen. The alternative would be massive programmatic or personnel cuts, and we can't let that happen, either."
State Rep. William Dyson, D-New Haven, co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, offered to look at the issue thoroughly.
"How much of the state's resources are going to provide for higher education?" he asked. "I have a sense the committee is firmly behind discussing all aspects of this dilemma. It's going to require a lot of discussion. The resolution won't be a Band-Aid."
Education leaders told committee members that reducing the budget for higher education would have dire consequences both for institutions and students struggling with ever-higher tuition bills.
"Connecticut needs to invest in higher education to meet its goals of economic development," Andrew DeRocco, commissioner of higher education, told the Appropriations Committee. "Connecticut's record is of sporadic attention to its colleges and universities. What I see is a state that treats higher education as discretionary.
"The proposal will have grave consequences for the higher education system," he said. "It's at worst devastating and at best undoable."
UConn originally submitted a budget request of $148.9 million for 1997-98 and $152 million for 1998-99. Prior to this week's adjustment, the budget office recommended $135 million for the University in 1997-98 and $136.8 million in 1998-99.
The University received $138.5 million in 1988-89.
"If we suffer yet another reduction in the state appropriation, it will inexorably invite upward pressure on tuition levels, although I am committed to hold the line," he said. "As the state's public university, we have the responsibility to provide high-quality academic programs at an affordable price."
In general, budget cuts would jeopardize excellence, Austin explained.
"It's the quality of faculty that determines academic excellence. And that's a national market," he said. "We have to provide the University with enough resources to compete."
Cutting money for higher education would be like biting the hand that feeds the state's economy, he said.
"We can still lose this economic fight. There is no chance in the world that the manufacturing jobs that continue to leave this state are ever going to come back," Austin said. "Is there anyone who honestly believes that the insurance companies are going to restore jobs? Is there anyone who really believes we can compete successfully for jobs with the Southeast United States?
"The way in which Connecticut, in my opinion, is going to be successful is by investing in higher education and improving the education levels of the citizenry and thereby attracting those industries and those jobs ... with a higher level of value added."
Austin diverted from his proposed text to answer legislators' concerns about Hartford Courant articles discussing how athletic and UConn Foundation funds have been spent.
"It seems to me that if we are to gain the respect of the public and maintain it, not only must we be accountable for our expenditures, both public funds and those contributed, but we must also find new and more efficient ways of doing business, and that means collaborations with other institutions," Austin said.
"Do we make mistakes? Yes we do. And serious errors in judgment were made."
In the future, he added, "We not only must act in a conservative and sensible and pragmatic way, we must be sensitive to perceptions of past errors through prudent use of resources."
As for the Courant articles, Dyson said: "The perception is there and it undermines the very thing you want us to do -- provide additional resources. The institution is not above the fray."
Committee members quizzed Austin about administrative expenses, but he said he was "perplexed" about budget statistics showing a bloated bureaucracy at the University. "It's simply based on erroneous data," he said.
"First and foremost, Governor Rowland believes strongly that our public higher education system is a critical component of the state's future," he told the committee. "Further, he believes strongly in the need for Connecticut to provide public educational opportunities for all those who wish to attend public college in state."
Kozlowski cited a study showing that only Wyoming and North Carolina spend more per student on higher education than did Connecticut last year. But DeRocco, Austin and the leaders of the Connecticut State University system and community-technical colleges countered that spending for daily operations has remained flat during the past decade while costs have gone up. A report in Governing magazine ranked Connecticut 50th among the states in percent of personal income spent on higher education.
With the proposed cuts, Rowland is merely looking for more efficiency, Kozlowski said.
"It is the governor's firm belief that generating such efficiencies can be accomplished while at the same time maintaining or improving services provided to our students," he said. "It was on this basis that the governor asked the state colleges and university systems to review their budgets with an eye toward reducing administrative overhead and reallocating funding to education-related areas."
Austin told reporters after his testimony that he hopes the University and OPM can agree on a common definition of terms for legislators.
"This is the first salvo," he said. "We will get them the data and the evidence to help them make decisions."
He said he has not yet decided what cuts will be made at UConn should the budget proposal stand.
"I'm not sure what the final impact will be," he said. "Something has to give. We're going to have to stop doing some activities and raise the price.
"I'm not prepared to reveal plans. Discussions have occurred on how to deal with any kind of cuts."
Dyson, meanwhile, said he wants to resolve
differences "without engaging in an extensive watering
Students from UConn, the Connecticut State University System and the community-technical colleges packed a hearing room to tell committee members the dangers of additional reductions.
"The Connecticut I remember gave me the opportunity for a quality, affordable education," Kevin Fahey, president of the University of Connecticut Professional Employees Association (UCPEA), told committee members. "This is not an opportunity for our children and grandchildren. ... The future of this state lies in higher education. The economic future of the state lies in higher education."
"One does not need to be a high-tech scientist to look into the future of the University in light of the proposed budget cuts," added Faquir Jain, professor of electrical engineering and president of the UConn chapter of the American Association of University Professors. "In my view, it is not at all encouraging."
With faculty vacancies along with higher tuition, the president of the Graduate Student Senate, Julie Cyr, also wondered about the future.
"With this trend, my question is, who will teach the undergraduates?" she asked. "And if there are no faculty, who are the graduate students going to work for?"
Alumni also pleaded with the committee.
"I believe that the graduates I have or have had in my employment have contributed in some way to the economic success stories here in Connecticut," said Rosalyn Cama '75, president of a New Haven interior design firm. "The University of Connecticut has served me well and I ask that you continue to support the increases that institution finds necessary to support our state's economic base."
Renu Sehgal contributed to this report.